September 28, 2011

Outliving My Usefulness

Okay, I think it's time to pack it in.

When super-puffed-up industry titans start agreeing with me, I have to believe my days as a contrarian are numbered.

I thought I had a nice safe little niche as a Luddite dinosaur, when all of a sudden I have the ceo of one of the world's largest advertising monstrosities and the editor-in-chief of a big publishing enterprise sounding like me. It's alarming.

Sir Martin Sorrell (but you can call him Marty) ceo of WPP and Supreme Ruler of the Ad Universe recently said he had "fundamental doubts" about the efficacy of social media as an advertising life form. Here's how he put it.
“Facebook, Google+, Twitter are advanced forms of social interaction. We used to write letters to each other and now we correspond through Facebook and Twitter. If you interrupt that with a message you may run into trouble...I have some fundamental doubts about the ability to monetize social platforms… it is dangerous territory"
Not meaning to be competitive here, but don't you think I said it better when I wrote..."in the digital world people are passionate about interacting with each other. Not ads. Not brands. Not you. Not me."?

Then, just to really piss me off, Michael Wolff, editorial director of Adweek, had this to say in a piece about Sorrell's "fundamental doubts"...
"The Web itself, once expected to be the ne plus ultra of advertising, has returned much more equivocal results....the big digital kahunas have come up with a way to make money for themselves, at the expense of everybody else. Worse yet, the forms of advertising they’ve created don’t even work very well..."
Once again, an impartial observer might say that this proposition was more aptly put in a post entitled Who's Making Money On Social Media? which appeared over a year and a half ago and stated..."It's pretty clear that someone's making money from social media. But I'm not sure it's the people who are paying for it."

So what I want to know is, what the hell's going on here? Can't a guy be a disagreeable pain in the ass anymore without everyone trying to horn in on the action?

Marty and Mikey -- let me be clear about this. You work your territory and I'll work mine. I'm going to let you slide this time, but I don't want to see any more of this "thinking for yourself" bullshit. That's just not how it's done in the ad business, okay?

September 26, 2011

Apple, Pepsi and Bullshit

Over the years, I have written a lot about Pepsi and Apple. These two companies have a few things in common, and one big thing that separates them.

They are both enormously successful. They are both conscientiously committed to innovation.

The difference is, when it comes to marketing, Apple keeps coming up with amazing successes while Pepsi keeps getting tangled up in its underwear.

It is my opinion that one major thing that separates the marketing abilities of these companies is something that is rarely talked about in business circles, but is a huge differentiator among organizations. It's the ability to recognize bullshit.

The world today is swimming in bullshit. It is drowning in bullshit. It is submerged, inundated, and deluged with bullshit.

This is a serious issue. One of the most harmful, insidious forces in contemporary business, politics, and education is bullshit.

Among the critical skills of talented leaders is the ability to identify bullshit in all its many varieties and disguises. It is my contention that one of the key reasons that Pepsi beverage marketing has been a mess is that whoever is running it cannot recognize bullshit. Below are some quotes I have published before from Pepsi executives:
" much are we encouraging the continual learning from inside our staff about how to leverage these technologies with inside of their communications and engagement plans but as well as just for their own personal communications and internal communication with inside each other and from employee to employee."
"[Before] it was more of a global coordination as opposed to a global management,...Technology, both social networks and mobile platforms, have created this global generation. We really want to connect our global brands with the global generation, and the best way to do that is with global management."  
In your wildest dreams, can you imagine Steve Jobs sitting still for this nonsense?

A friend of mine worked at a high level on the Apple account. He tells of a meeting at which the agency's planning director was presenting some typical planning hooey. After two minutes, Jobs put his head down on the conference table. After 5 minutes he lifted his head and said, "Lee, am I paying for this bullshit?"

Pepsi not only would have paid for it, they would have gone back for seconds.

September 22, 2011

The Evidence Of Our Own Eyes

One thing we have in the ad business today that we didn't have when I started 100 years ago is experts.

We had "creative geniuses," "stars" and "gurus." But we didn't have "experts."

In those days, advertising was believed to be the art of persuasion. Today it is believed to be the science of engagement.

We didn't have nearly the amount of data. The only "metric" that really mattered was sales.

The continuing evolution of advertising from a qualitative to a quantitative endeavor has resulted in the growing belief in experts and expertise. We now have social media experts, and digital advertising experts, and consumer engagement experts, and...well, you know.

One of unsettling aspects of this is that in some ways we have been convinced that the opinions of experts are more real than the evidence of our own eyes. Every day we experience behaviors that contradict what our experts are telling us. Yet, for some strange reason we don't perceive the disjunction.
  • We know that we have never clicked on a banner ad, yet we continue to accept the proposition that banner ads are "interactive."
  • We know that we have never looked at an ad on our Facebook page, yet we continue to accept the argument that Facebook is a powerful advertising medium.
  • We know that advertising is more pervasive than ever, yet we continue to accept the thesis that advertising is a dying industry.
We're strange this way. We experience the specific but have a hard time connecting it to the general.

In the fullness of time, I believe we will find that our first generation of "experts" turned out to be about as dependable as experts in most other social sciences -- the equivalent of monkeys throwing darts.

September 21, 2011

Winning Is The Best Deodorant

Last year the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. I have lived in the San Francisco bay area since the mid-1970's and, earthquakes aside, it was the biggest event I experienced here. Bigger than the Super Bowl wins of the 80's and 90's.

Last week, just 10 months after winning the World Series, the Giants fired their CEO.

The Giants have had a tough season, mostly the result of bad luck. Their two best hitters went down early with season-ending injuries. Pablo (Panda) Sandoval also missed about 40 games with an injury. Two of their starting pitchers missed a good deal of the season with injuries. In August they traded for Carlos Beltran, one of the game's elite hitters, and he immediately got hurt. Brian Wilson, their colorful and reliable closer, had nagging injuries all season and eventually wound up on the disabled list.

Three of the players who were instrumental in last year's championship have had terrible years.

Their remarkable pitching staff kept them in first place for most of the season, but after a while, the pressure of trying to win one or two-run games every day was too much, and the team faded.

And now the CEO has been fired.

Ad agencies are like baseball teams. They go through winning streaks and losing streaks. Some years the ball bounces your way and you can't help but win. Some years the same team with the same players gets all the wrong bounces and nothing goes right.

Having been in the agency business 100 years I've seen it go both ways. I've seen incredible winning streaks, and exasperating losing streaks. When the team is winning everybody is a genius. When the team is losing everyone and everything is suspect.

The tough part is managing the streaks -- knowing when to make changes in spite of a winning streak, and knowing when to stay the course in spite of a slump.

One thing's for sure. As John Madden often says, "Winning is the best deodorant."

September 20, 2011

Return To Moneyball

Last night I had the good fortune to be invited to the "world premiere" of the movie Moneyball. It's a terrific film. If you like baseball, you'll love it. Even if you don't like baseball, I think you'll enjoy it.  In July of 2008, I wrote a post about the book Moneyball. I thought I'd reprint it today.

The best book I ever read about advertising wasn't about advertising. It was about baseball.

It was called Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. If you are in marketing or advertising you should read this book.

The premise of the book is that baseball insiders are guilty of a herd mentality that is focused on the wrong things and reaches the wrong conclusions.

The book is centered on Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A's. The A's have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and yet, have won more regular season baseball games since 2002 than any team other than the Yankees.

How they do this is by ignoring all the conventional wisdom (i.e., bullshit) that permeates their business. They have developed their own principles about what makes a ballplayer valuable. And they follow these principles regardless of what the herd thinks.

As I read the book I marveled at the parallels to advertising.

There is an ossified aristocracy of advertising insiders -- just pick up any issue of Ad Age or Adweek to find out who they are -- who keep repeating the same dreadful cliches about "engagement" and "conversations" and "media neutrality" and "360 degree touchpoints" and "surprise and delight" and "disruption" and "integration"... ad nauseum. And the herd follows.

The hard part is getting beyond the mind-numbing double-talk of the trend-setters and developing your own principles. And here's a tip -- if you can't express it plain English, it's not a principle. It's jargon.

I bought a copy of Moneyball for each of our managers and gave them an assignment to read it. We examined what we really believed about advertising and put it down in writing. This lead us to create 3 guiding principles by which we create advertising. We may not be the smartest people in the world, but at least we know what we do and why we do it. And it's different from anyone else we know.

I highly recommend this book and this exercise.

September 19, 2011

Oh No, I'm Dead!

For the past four years, one of the mainstays of this blog has been making fun of the silly  "______ Is Dead" brand of marketing journalism.

If you'd like to see your name on the byline of an article, but you have no idea what to write about, just pick any topic -- let's say "shopping" -- and write an article called "Shopping Is Dead."

The great thing is, you don't need any facts. You just make up a few assertions based on nothing but the latest industry babble, and they publish it. It's great!

We've been through "Advertising Is Dead" and "Television Is Dead" and just about everything else associated with Life Before The Internet (LBTI) is dead, too.

The fact that things go on pretty much as before is irrelevant to the minds that produce and believe this nonsense. So what if television viewing is at its highest point ever? So what if the world is drowning in advertising as never before? Web maniacs want them dead so, what the hell, let's just say they're dead. 

The reason that facts have no place in this type of journalism is that these pieces aren't really about what they claim to be about. They are about a particular brand of religion -- The Divine Church Of The Internet -- and these paeans are part of an evolving liturgy written in adoration of the new god. Sadly, he's a jealous god who cannot be satisfied until he vanquishes everything that came before.

In this new religion we don't just have a new god, we also have a New Man. The New Man has shed the wickedness of his previously pagan existence and is now cleansed and enlightened by the shining light of the Internet.

Today we present a lovely example of the genre. It's called The Copywriter Is Dead. It appeared last week in a blog called The Future Of Media. According to this latest addition to the Encyclopedia Of Things That Are Dead, we copywriters have "perfected the art of lying to consumers" and for that and our other sins we have now been exiled to the boneyard.

Can you guess what killed us? Hint: It not only killed us, it also changed everything. Ah, you clever boy, you've got it. We were killed by social media.

The article gives us a full curriculum on the amazing blessings of social media, including all the usual stuff  -- "cultural curation", "lines of conversation","avenues of authenticity." (Strangely, however, nothing about congressmen tweeting pictures of their weenies.)

Apparently, the reason for the tragic demise of us poor copywriters is that now in the age of social media...
"...the voice of the real individual has triumphed -- only the recommendation of a like-minded consumer, journalist or objective reviewer holds sway."
Really? That's a pretty sweeping statement. So I decided to do a little research and find out in what proportion these "like-minded consumers, journalists, and objective reviewers" are responsible for my untimely demise.

I parked myself in front of the Safeway in my neighborhood with a clipboard and pencil. As people came out with their shopping carts, I stopped them, picked one or two items out of their basket and asked them this question: "Who did you consult before you bought this jar of peanut butter and those frozen chicken fingers: a like-minded consumer, a journalist, or an objective reviewer?"

Here are the tabulated responses:
- Like-minded consumer:                                  0
- Journalist:                                                         0
- Objective Reviewer:                                        0
- Nobody:                                                         585
- Get The Fuck Out of Here, Asshole:     1,207
Although these numbers tend not to support the author's hypothesis, being a fair-minded person I must admit that my local Safeway is probably a little down-market compared to the author of the piece, whose credentials include producing "experiential" work for "global brands." I imagine in those rarefied quarters where global brands are experientiated you probably can't swing a dead yoga mat without hitting a card-carrying cultural curator.

As a result of my research project, I have come to the conclusion that what consumers rely on mostly is their own freakin' experience. Can it be that the personal experience of enjoying a product is even more powerful than the triumphant voices of all the twittering "like-minded consumers, journalists, and objective reviewers?" Can it be that we're not all slaves to what others "like?"

And that's where copywriters come in.

The job of the copywriter is to persuade us to experience a product. It's a job that requires a good deal of artistry, finesse, and tact -- characteristics rarely encountered in the silly jabber of web zealots.

September 15, 2011

At The Gate

"Welcome to Flight 81 to Chicago. We will begin boarding in just a few moments.

"Before we begin, families traveling with young children and people needing extra time to get down the jetway are welcome to pre-board now. Also, annoying people who are hanging around this desk and bugging the shit out of me are also welcome to board.

"When we begin boarding we will start with our First Class passengers, followed by our 1K passengers and members of Star Alliance, Co-Star Alliance, Lone Star Alliance, Ringo Starr Alliance, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Alliance.

"Then we will board Premier Executives, Premier Middle-Management, Premier Regular Guys, Premier Part-Time, Premier Hourly, and Premier Administrative Leave.

"Next, we will board Mileage Plus Platinum, Mileage Plus Gold, Mileage Plus Silver, Mileage Plus Bronze, Mileage Plus Magnesium, Mileage Plus Tungsten, and Mileage Plus Roughage.

"After which we will board our Dirt members -- Dirt Diamond, Dirt Emerald, Dirt Sapphire and Just Plain Dirt.

"Once our elite categories have been boarded we will begin general boarding. Please look at your boarding card. On it you will find either a group number or a color code.

"We will begin general boarding with Group 1. Because of a change of equipment, Group 3 will be boarding before Group 2. If you are in Group 4, please proceed down the jetway backwards. If you are in Group 5 and Group 6, we ask you to buddy-up and board the aircraft holding hands.

"If, on your boarding pass, you have a color code, you will board in the following order: We will start with Threat Level Red, then Threat Level Orange, Threat Level Beige, and Threat Level Plaid. All color-coded passengers should be prepared to have their underthings searched for explosive devices. If you have explosive devices in your underwear, please remove them now and bring them to the desk. We will check them through and deliver them to you upon arrival in Chicago.

"Once we have completed general boarding, we will proceed with supplementary boarding. Supplementary boarding will proceed as follows: people with turbans, followed by people who think pianos can fit in overhead bins, followed by people with nasty rashes, and finally, branding consultants.

Thank you for flying United and welcome to the Friendly Skies."

September 14, 2011

Proactive Strategic Frameworks Enabling Actionable Insights

As a copywriter, one of the things that has always fried my ass is the assumption on the part of a certain type of account person or planner that I need them to hold my hand or I'll wind up wandering out into traffic and getting myself hurt.

The nonsense goes like this: creatives are silly little emotional children who can't be trusted to think straight and need grown-ups to show them the shining path.

It's all complete and utter bullshit. I've been in the ad business for over 200 years and without question the best strategists I've met have been creatives. Better than planners. Better than MBAs. Better than CMOs.

Of course, not every art director is a better strategist than every planning director. But on average, really good creatives are far better at strategy than the people who have the word strategy in their job descriptions.

Which makes a piece of junk I read in AdAge recently even more infuriating. The piece was called "Meet Today's Analytic Creative." It rehashes all the usual ignorant nonsense about creatives being right-brain retards. But the difference is that this thing was written by someone who calls himself a chief creative officer. 

The column was nothing more than a jargon-drenched self-promotion piece disguised as a news article. That AdAge would print such baloney is a comment on the pathetic state of our industry and the people who cover it.

Here's a glimpse at the preposterous nonsense in this guy's article:
"The ability to develop inspired, right-brain solutions within a strategic framework of actionable intelligence is the creative currency of a data-driven age..".
I would like to nominate the above sentence for a "Buzzword Bingo" lifetime achievement award.
"Recently, our analytics group started partnering proactively with creative groups..."
Good job. If there's one thing we have to put a stop to it's retroactive partnering.
"..marketers applying analytic techniques to digital data have been rewarded with a growing bounty of insights."
Really? Digital data? I'd like to know exactly what kind of data is not digital?
"The result was the development of a proprietary tool that packages data in an intuitive, visual way enabling creatives to manipulate information themselves to provide actionable insights."
I got your proprietary tool right here. And, by the way, do you really think it's wise to allow creatives to manipulate information all by themselves? Aren't you afraid they may put someone's eye out?

Here's a little tip for the poor bastards who are stuck working for this meatball. Ignore all this bullshit and try to find something interesting to say about the product.

September 12, 2011

Of Men And Magicians

"There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark." - Mark Kac
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called Advertising And The Future Of Apple. It received a lot of attention.

One of the points I made in the piece was  that I did not agree with the pundits who were asserting that Apple would be an equally innovative enterprise with Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO.

I want to talk a little more about this.

Steve Jobs is a magician. To paraphrase Mr. Kac (pronounced Kahts), even after we see what he has done, we don't understand how he did it.

I'm a half-assed amateur musician who likes to write music. I'm pretty lousy at it. Actually, I'm very lousy at it. When I listen to music written by Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, I can understand how they did it. I can see the underlying structure. I can imagine, if I were just a thousand times better than I am, I could have written that music.

But when I listen to music by George Gershwin or Duke Ellington, I am lost. I have no idea how they did it. I could sit at a piano for all eternity and not be able to do it.

I am sure there are brilliant people all over the Apple organization. But there is a special kind of creative brilliance that is unique. It cannot be replaced or replicated by "ordinary geniuses."

This does not mean that Apple won't continue to be a great company. It doesn't mean that it won't continue to be extraordinarily successful. It just means that over time, the creative leaps are likely to become less astounding and less frequent.

Perhaps Jobs will continue to be the true leader of Apple from his position as non-executive chairman.

If not, the idea that Apple will be as imaginative without him leading just does not seem believable to me.

Magicians are hard to find.

September 08, 2011

Clicking Toward Oblivion

"What was once digital advertising’s dirty little secret is now its big, ugly problem. Online ad performance figures are dismal..." Adweek, 8/24/11
Just when you thought banner ads couldn't get any less effective, oops, click-through rates dropped another 10% last year.

Mashable reports that a Google study, seen as the "the industry standard" reported recently that click-through rates dropped from .1% to .09% in 2010. That means that CTRs dropped from 1 in a thousand to 9 in ten thousand.

So, Mr. Online Advertiser, for every 10,000 times your online ad appeared, you got a solid 9 clicks. Good job.

If you were a shortstop, you'd be batting .0009

Oh, and by the way, the 9 people who clicked are no more likely to buy your product than the 9,991 people who didn't.
“A click means nothing, earns no revenue and creates no brand equity." says Starcom USA SVP/Director, Research & Analytics John Lowell.
Which, I'm afraid, is not a terribly encouraging statement about the value of "interactivity."

Meanwhile, undeterred, the advertising industry continues selling clients more and more display ads. In June, eMarketer doubled its projection for online ad spending in 2011.

You may be asking yourself how display ads -- with such "dismal" performance -- can continue to provide large income to online publishers? This, my friend, may go down as one of the great con sales jobs in advertising history. The logic, again from Mashable, goes like this:
"...banners work like most advertising, which is to say in a fairly complex manner.
For instance, click-through is actually a poor measure of performance. It’s impossible to click through a billboard ad, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective...
The same is true for TV ads..."
Oh, I see. The now famous "nobody ever clicked on a TV spot" defense.

So here's what has really happened. Online ad hustlers experts told us that banner ads were much more effective than traditional advertising because they were so "measurable" and "interactive." Then the facts started rolling in and they shit their pants refined their message.

Now the story goes like this: Banner ads really aren't any more measurable or interactive than traditional advertising. In fact, the erstwhile key metric -- the click -- don't mean shit. Now, we are told, banner ads work just like traditional advertising, in a "fairly complex" manner.

The only trouble with this baloney new story is that you have to be both blind and delusional to believe that some invisible ad on your Facebook page is as conspicuous as a TV spot or a billboard. In fact, while your average TV spot or billboard is an annoying, intrusive pain in the ass, nobody ever complains about Facebook ads. Which is just another way of saying nobody notices the darn things.

It seems that the worse online advertising performs the more of it we can sell. C'mon gang, if we can just get the click-through rate down to zero, we'll all be rich!

September 06, 2011

Mr. President, Here's An Idea

Here at The Ad Contrarian World Headquarters, we are always looking for ways to help our industry and our country. Later this week, President Obama is going to make an important speech about the economy. A few years ago, we had a fabulous idea for improving the economy. As usual, no one paid any attention. We are going to proffer it again today in the hope that the American people will see the merit of this idea and rise up to demand its immediate implementation.

I have an idea that I think we can all agree on. It won't create any further hardship for a single American citizen, and will save the country a lot money.

I think we need to do more recycling.

Specifically, I think we need to recycle our laws. I don't think we need new laws every year. We should use our laws for two years.

If we only need a new president every four years, why do we need new laws every year?

Each year our elected officials make thousands of new laws. And to tell you the truth, I can't really tell the difference. I mean, what was the difference between, say, 2007's laws and 2008's? Did all those guys really need to ride around in limos for twelve months and have hearings and caucuses and debates and televised town meetings? Do you remember noticing a difference? I don't.

So let's say we only make new laws on even numbered years. Then every odd year we can send all our federal, state, and municipal lawmakers home and close down their offices. They can get back to annoying their families instead of us. This will save the country a lot of money and, honestly, who's gonna know? 

Frankly, I don't think we have a shortage of laws. I think there are plenty of them. And if we're careful, we ought to be able to squeeze another year out of the ones we already have.

If you don't have enough laws where you are, my neighbors and I here in California will be happy to let you use some of ours.

I acknowledge that sending our legislators home may have an adverse economic affect on certain industries, like prostitution. Also the phenomenal growth of social media may slow as the number of naughty tweets drops significantly. But isn't it all about trade-offs?

We can make the idea palatable to both Democrats and Republicans by giving it a fancy Washington-style name like "The Sustainable Legislation Act of 2011." We'll tell them we're just trying to preserve our precious statutory resources.

Here are some other benefits of this idea:
  • 50% less shouting on cable tv
  • Lessen our dependence on foreign oil and reduce global warming because congressmen won't be flying off to China and France on "fact-finding" missions every Monday morning
  • Reduce the number of political blogs from a trillion to half a trillion
  • Maybe with more time on their hands they'll get better face lifts and hair plugs
Frankly, I think we can do just fine recycling last year's laws. They weren't so bad.